Finding CricketTen years ago this week, Susan Fedorko answered her phone and ended a 22-year search. On the other end of the line was her younger half-sister — someone she had never met. Both were daughters of a model, if not supermodel, who graced the covers of Vogue, Harpers and other magazines, but started her career after giving up her older daughter for adoption.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Ten years ago this week, Susan Fedorko answered her phone and ended a 22-year search. On the other end of the line was her younger half-sister — someone she had never met. Both were daughters of a model, if not supermodel, who graced the covers of Vogue, Harpers and other magazines, but started her career after giving up her older daughter for adoption.
Fedorko recounts the journey of her reunion with her family — stretching for her home in the Twin Cites area to Grand Portage and places beyond the heart — in her newly released book, “Cricket: Secret Child of a Sixties Supermodel.”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Fedorko told the News-Chronicle of meeting her long-lost relatives. “In fact, my husband and family said, ‘I don’t want to see you get hurt,’ but there was no turning back.”
Her mother, Cathee (or Catherine) Dahmen, an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was just 16 when Fedorko was born in St. Joseph Hospital in Minneapolis. For almost a year, Dahmen tried to raise her daughter, Fedorko writes in her book, but eventually decided to contact an adoption agency and give her up. Before that, however, Fedorko was part of a big extended family — her mother being one of nine children — and acquired the nickname “Cricket,” which she says her family members called her even after she was given up.
Her mother’s brother, whom she calls Uncle Jimmy, recalled that time.
“I was against her being adopted,” he said from Brooklyn Park. “I wanted Catherine to take care of her, but I think it was hard. Catherine couldn’t get a good job and in order to get a good job, she knew she needed to finish high school. She couldn’t do that and take care of a baby.”
But he didn’t forget Cricket.
“Even when I was lost and out there, they told me they’d say ‘do you think Cricket’s still alive?’”Fedorko said.
When Fedorko was adopted in 1963, the Indian Child Welfare Act had not been enacted by Congress. The Act, passed in 1978, was intended to keep Native American children with Native American families to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families,” according to the law’s wording. Fedorko was placed with a family in the Twin Cities area, but she said “I grew up with a Caucasian family, not knowing my roots and culture.”
Fedorko’s cousin, Lisa Dahmen, of Grand Portage, was not yet born before Fedorko was adopted, but she remembers hearing about her as a child.
“Everyone knew she was adopted out and everyone would talk about her. They made it a fact that she was out there — that she would come looking for the family one day. We just kept wondering when the day would come when she would return to us,” Lisa Dahmen said, adding that she now sees Fedorko three or four times a year — and always in August for the Grand Portage powwow.
Minnesota law does not permit adoptees to access their birth certificates unless their birth parent has filed an affidavit of disclosure, Fedorko said. She said she approached the agency that handled the adoption, but they charged a fee for the information, she said.
“When I was 18, it seemed like a giant amount I’d never be able to afford,” she said.
“In 1997, the Internet got really big and I found a network of adoption sites on the web. I posted a message on Adoption.com,” Fedorko said.
At the same time, her half-sister was searching for her, armed with information she’d received from family members. She found the long-lost Cricket after a two-day search.
“From 18-40, nothing — then she found me in two days,” Fedorko recalled, “I think she was curious as to who her long lost sister was and thought it was time for me to come home to the family.”
Since that time, Fedorko has met many of her family members including aunts, uncles and cousins, but both of her birth parents died before she had the chance to reunite with them. Her mother died of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 52 — five years before Fedorko was reunited. Her father, Tom Conklin, who was from the White Earth Nation, died of colon cancer just one year earlier. Fedorko is unsure if her mother tried to find her before her death in 1997.
“She told relatives she had tried to find me, but that I wasn’t ready,” she said, and then that her mother told others that Cricket had died.
“I think that’s just how she coped with the whole thing,” Fedorko said, but in spite of never meeting her mother, she has been able to learn a great deal about her from family, friends and in the media.
Not long after Fedorko was placed with her adoptive family, Cathee Dahmen was discovered and later became an internationally known model.
Fedorko says she knew nothing of that when as a teen she began buying and selling vintage fashion magazines. Later, when she learned about her mother, she found her collection included many photographs on the covers and in the pages of publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Vogue.
“I’ve learned a lot about who she is from pictures. It’s like a Christmas present to see a picture of her,” said Fedorko, but she didn’t want the pictures to be the only memories that existed of her mother. That’s why she wrote the book.
“I’m carrying on her legacy and the book is my legacy to my daughters. It took six years to write, but it’s been a great accomplishment for me … healing to be able to write and document a part of my life and keep my father and mother alive,” she said.
Cathee Dahmen is not Fedorko’s only well- known relative. She is also the grand-niece of artist George Morrison, whose work is well-known in the Northland and has been at the Smithsonian.
“I have loved art all my life and always wanted to be a graphic artist. I found out that everyone in my family is an artist and thought, ‘wow, no wonder,’” she laughed. Her family members say there is more than just artistic ability that indicates her connection to the family.
“When I first saw her I thought she looked like a couple of my aunties and cousins,” said Lisa Dahmen, “she has Cathee’s eyes, she looks like us. She has (Cathee’s) face, her voice — just everything. You can tell she’s part of the family.”
Fedorko said that both her mother’s and father’s families have embraced and welcomed her and after meeting many of them, she has realized that she was often closer than she thought to her biological relatives.
“I’d been circling the rim of this family for years. Cathee’s mother, Mary Morrison went to the same Catholic church as my adoptive grandmother and one of my neighbors worked with Cathee’s sister,” she said recalling a few instances where she has learned there were connections over the years “but (the reunion) all happened at the right time in my life.”
Fedorko is now a Grand Portage tribal member and works as an administrative specialist for the Bureau of Indian Education in St. Paul.
She says she belongs to a network that is trying to change legislation so adoptees can gain access to their original birth certificates. Her book is a chronicle of her search for her family of origin and her reunion. She encourages others to record their journeys.
“I encourage anyone in the reunion process to capture their thoughts and emotions. It will help them find healing and acceptance of the things that have happened.”
“Cricket: Secret Child of a Sixties Supermodel” is available on Amazon.com.